Alessandra Mastroianni arrives at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival premiere of To Rome With Love
at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE on June 14, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/WireImage)

Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi is the latest in a long line of actresses to be discovered by or give a remarkable performance in a film by the four-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen. In the case of Mastronardi, she had a prolific career in Italian TV, film, and theater, before being introduced to a global audience in Allen’s latest film To Rome with Love. In Allen’s kaleidoscopic view of the remarkable city and its inhabitants, Mastronardi plays Millie, a young bride who gets separated from her husband for a day. By misunderstanding and chance, Millie ends up being romanced by a legendary movie star (Antonio Albanese) while her husband accidentally ends up in the company of a prostitute played by Oscar-winning actress Penelope Cruz. In anticipation of To Rome with Love being released in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, June 22nd (here’s Craig’s review), I recently enjoyed a chat with Mastronardi about filming the movie. Here’s what she shared with me about working with Allen and crafting her character of Millie for To Rome with Love.

Jackson Truax: How did you come to play Millie in To Rome with Love?

Alessandra Mastronardi: The part was a big gift. The section [of the film] was an homage that Woody gave to an Italian movie called Boccaccio ’70 by Federico Fellini. It’s an odd movie… The character was exactly like Millie. Woody said, “I want to give this gift to Italian cinema. I think Millie, she’s really close to that character…” So I watched the movie. When I went on-set, I tried to bring Millie alive.

JT: How familiar were you with the rest of Woody Allen’s work, either when you got the role or before shooting?

AM: Woody Allen is one of my favorite directors. I was a big fan of his. Annie Hall is my favorite. Manhattan is my favorite. I think I know all the lines of Manhattan Murder Mystery… When I saw him for the first time, it was a shock for me, a big shock. I spent the whole first day looking at the floor. Because I was too shy. I couldn’t speak. I wouldn’t say anything.

JT: Allen has a long history of having actors show up on set and never talking to them or giving them any direction. Was that your experience?

AM: Everybody said the same thing, even my agent… I think he’s a really shy person in the beginning, like in a defensive mode. He doesn’t know you, so he’ll try to study you and try to trust in you. The first step for him is to say nothing and look on the floor… After that, he explained to me that if he casts you, it’s because he really trusts you. So you don’t need to have a lot of direction from him. He said, “When I’m not happy with something, I’ll come to you and I’ll tell you, so don’t worry.”

JT: There are stories about Allen saying things to actors on-set like, “There’s a comma in that line. Say it the way it’s written.” Was that what you experienced? Or did you get to improvise and try a lot of things on set?

AM: We really improvised a lot on-set. [Allen] said, “Do whatever you want to do. I’m happy enough.” My scenes were in Italian. He asked us to speak in Italian. Because for us, it was much easier acting. Later on, he put all the subtitles. The funny thing, he said, “You can say whatever you want to say. I’ll put the subtitles in later.” I said, “Okay, Woody. I’ll do that.” So it wasn’t a big deal for him.

JT: You’ve worked extensively in television in Italy. How was filming To Rome with Love different from working on the television projects that you’ve done?

AM: They’re both so different. I love work. So I don’t care if I have to work on the TV, on the stage, or in the cinema… The big difference is…the budget, and the time. In the cinema, you have much more time to express yourself and do whatever you want to do. In TV, you have to do eight scenes…or maybe twelve sometimes…in just one day… It’s a lot of scenes. You don’t have any time at all. When I worked with Woody, there was plenty of time for everybody… He said to everybody, “Take your time.” To the lighters, the cinematographer, everybody. That was great.

JT: How many takes were you able to do of any given scene? 

AM: Not a lot, honestly… It depends. If a scene works from the beginning, we’ll just do it two or three times. Sometimes, maybe we had to spend a lot of time a scene, but…only because Woody never cut. There’s a big scene in the movie, the scene in the hotel room with me and the famous actor… It’s a long scene…and it never cuts. It’s four minutes of a scene without a cut. So if there’s a technical problem, you have to cut and you have start again. So you need much more time for rehearsal.

JT: In addition to acting, you also studied psychology. How did that help you, either in building the character of Millie, or has it helped you with acting in general? 

AM: It’s really deep inside me… My father is a psychologist. So I’ve grown up with psychology in my house. So that means that I’ve grown-up looking at people and studying people and characters. And getting a really deep sense of life, from asking really deep questions… Maybe acting is a kind of psychoanalysis.

JT: To Rome with Love is your first film to be released in America. What are your plans for after its release? Do you plan on trying to make more films? Would you like to start a career in America?

AM: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m really open to everything. I have an agent here. But I’m happy enough to be here now… If it happens, I’ll be fantastically glad. Obviously, every actor or actress dreams of working in America and in LA, because the projects are amazing. The screenplays are amazing. But even in Italy we have a really good movie industry. I believe in this work. I believe in this industry. So if there’s work for me, and if they want me, I’m coming.

JT: Why do you think it’s important audiences seek out To Rome with Love after it’s released on June 22nd? What do you think the film has to offer audiences that’s unique?

AM: I think it’s a beautiful postcard of Rome. It’s a beautiful postcard of my country, and my city, and my language… Nobody knows what Italian is. Everybody speaks French or Spanish and obviously English in the rest of the world. And maybe now Chinese. But Italian language is the last one. I think the movie will be a big pleasure. It’s an amazing postcard of Rome from Woody Allen. If you love Woody Allen, and if you’re interested in Rome and Italy…it’s a great time.

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